Ebola Threatens West Africa Food Supply Amid Restrictions

West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has caused trade disruptions that are making food more expensive as labor shortages put upcoming harvests at risk, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization said.

Movement controls and quarantine zones created to stop the disease from spreading have curbed transport and sale of food, resulting in panic buying and “significant” price jumps for some commodities, the United Nations agency wrote in a report dated today on its website.

Ebola spread to a fifth country last month, with a Guinean man testing positive for the virus in Senegal. It has sickened 3,069 people and killed 1,552, according to figures from the World Health Organization updated last week.

“With the main harvest now at risk and trade and movements of good severely restricted, food insecurity is poised to intensify in the weeks and months to come,” Bukar Tijani, the FAO’s regional representative for Africa, was cited as saying in the statement.

The main harvest season for rice and corn is “only weeks” away, and labor shortages on farms due to movement restrictions and migration to other areas will “seriously” impact production, the FAO said.

Generally adequate rains during the 2014 season had led to expectations for favorable harvests in the main Ebola-affected countries, FAO said. Areas in Sierra Leone and Liberia that are most affected by Ebola are also among the most productive, and food output is now expected to be seriously reduced, it wrote.

Crops Affected

Cash crops such as palm oil, cocoa and rubber are also expected to be “seriously” affected, according to the report. The livelihood and food purchasing power of many families depends on production of the commodities, the FAO said.

In Monrovia, Liberia, the prices of some food items have surged, with the price of cassava jumping 150 percent in the first weeks of August, the FAO wrote.

The price spikes have put food out of reach for some households in the affected area, which may have social repurcussions that could have a subsequent impact on disease containment, the FAO said.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are all net grain importers, according to the FAO. The closing of some border crossings as well as reduced trade from seaports are causing tighter supply and “sharply” increasing food prices, it said.

Virus Spreads

The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. The disease causes fever, diarrhea, muscle pain and vomiting, and as it progresses can lead to bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose.

The outbreak began in Guinea, spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia and also has appeared in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country. Senegal closed its border with Guinea last month to contain Ebola, slowing trade between the two countries. Six people have died in Nigeria, where the first case was a Liberian man who flew into Lagos, the country’s largest city.

The World Food Programme has started a regional emergency operation to bring about 65,000 metric tons of food to 1.3 million people, the FAO wrote.

Measures to revive internal trade are “essential” to ease supply constraints and mitigate further food-price increases, according to the agency.

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